The Vanguard Abides
Now that the high holidays and their incessant cello-ing are over and I'm just about done with my obsessive revisions of my new rock album, I’ll have some time to reflect over events of the recent and not so recent past. Today I'm thinking about a run we did at The Village Vanguard this summer, with Fabian Almazan's 'Rhizome' octet.
Walking thru little italy and chinatown on an immaculate fall day, I'm here just for the release. It's natural to reminisce on a day like this and, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna wax nostalgic for a while. As a kid, I used to jump the R train from borough hall to canal street and ride my skateboard through these streets, picking up cheap dope clothes at canal jean and having lunch with my brother at house of vegetarian on mott. I had my aiwa in my pocket, Sandinista! on auto reverse.
Walking around here now makes me think of all the places that have come and gone and of how I've changed in the mix. Looking at myself in a skype window this morning, sending a video message to a bud, I angle my head to mask the most egregious lines.
Like my mug, nyc undergoes a constant change. Some things remain...House of Veg is still there and is still a favorite mtg spot for my bro and me. Canal Jean's been replaced by H+M. As I walk down the craggy and untameable streets, I can't help notice the new timbre and energy of the city. It's a big fashion nowdays for NYers to bemoan this change, to rank on taylor swifts ‘welcome to ny,’ to get on the hate loop, almost the way tourists get on the Grey Line. I paid my fare and enjoyed the ride but I'm craning my neck to get a better view now lest I go crazy cursing out the new inhabitants, buildings, boutiques, and banks and shrivel up into a special kind of Scrooge wheeled in just in time for lovely ny xmas. I can still feel the radical realness of New Yorkers and I'm focussing on that today. And I'm not just talking about how the stereotype speaks his mind, I refer to the unflinching ability we have to not cover up who we are. No pleasantries or airs. We are who we are even when we're silent. So F... you.
A place that typifies this authenticity is The Village Vanguard. Playing there is like entering a holy temple or shrine. You must wash first. Say your prayers. Mentally prepare to meet your maker. Entering the Vanguard is like entering the wormhole in time bandits. A portal I mean. I'm transported to those sweet high school nights I spent watching Diz and Boo here and at Sweet Basil. It manages to preserve the energy of my NYC childhood too, and is one of the few places I feel that. Moreover, the personal vibes and sound vibrations of the past masters are all preserved there, like an Essex street pickle bobbing in brine.
Sitting on stage with the band during sound check the afternoon of our first show, I’m enthralled and shaken by these ghosts. Miles, Monk and Mingus all swerve and spin about my head. I look over my shoulder at a life-sized bust of Coltrane and he and I begin a dialogue. Like a Dickens spectre, he's not overly encouraging. I've got to watch my step, pay attention to my playing and above all be real. No shiny bullshit. I get it John. Thank you. I'll do my best. And please put in a good word for me with the JazzGod. I feel stupid talking about it almost like it's wrong. Sacrosanct this feeling at the Vanguard. Am I breaking an oath? Perhaps.
But the feeling abides. Even now in early November I'm haunted by the resonance of sitting on that stage. The photo sits on my desk daily reminding me of the glory of playing to a small room of devoted supplicants of art. they dint come for glitz- they entered a dark and dank basement and spent the evening emitting their b.o. and loving human warmth at me. I felt it.
And Rhizome is one of my favorite groups to be with, favorite peeps who are also gorgeous musicians. Incredible compositions by Fabian there. We played at the Kennedy Center in the spring for the Blue Note Records 75th Anniversary. And I must say that although I quaked and trembled in anticipation, the effect of being there couldn't compare to being inside my dear Vanguard. The stony carpeted halls maybe reminded me too much of my first home, Lincoln Center, where I spent my college days at the worship of other masters-Bach Beethoven and Brahms- yet never feeling their actual spirits were allowed in the building. Maybe they forgot their i.d.
There are a few spots like the Vanguard still knockin about the city and maybe if you and I continue to focus on them we can kindle a fire akin to the days when as kids we held the magnifying lens over paper in the backyard and let the sun burn it's bright way into our brain cells, memorizing the moment our spirits were called to bend the knee at the altar of art and of music and of love. I plan to.